By: Nick Schreiter and Taylor Riemersma
It’s 10:45 a.m. on a beautiful, 60-degree, bright and sunny start to the day in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. It feels like a September afternoon as a breeze blows. Huskers begin to pack the socially-distanced picnic tables excited to watch their team play after a week off. The aroma of the many restaurants in the Historic Haymarket fills the air leaving me with hunger pains. The bumpy, uncomfortable picnic table makes me wish I was sitting in the bleachers of the beloved Memorial Stadium eating a Runza. It’s just 15 minutes until the Huskers take the field in Evanston, Illinois, to play against the Northwestern Wildcats. That should be enough time to grab something to eat, but I can’t forget my mask.
“I was a little worried sitting there watching the game,” said University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumna Peyton Lundstrom. “If no one else was wearing a mask, I thought I would take mine off, too.”
Before we went to our first game in The Railyard, a UNL email warned of Lancaster County’s significant spread of COVID-19 — the COVID Risk Meter moved into the “very high” red status.
Settling in, two strangers asked to sit with us, and we obliged. This was one of three groups that would come and ask the same. Not wanting to be rude, we allowed each one take their turn at our table. There were some weird looks from across The Railyard as we sat there with our masks still on.
Husker red was in every direction with fans ready to party. As each one came in, got their wristband (some wore multiples for different bars) and sat down ready to cheer. Game days are supposed to be for yelling “Go Big Red!” But the crowd was relatively quiet.
More fans found their seats and remained there, unless they were grabbing another drink or heading to the latrines. There was an even mix of college students joined by those who seemed middle-aged. Not too many older individuals were to be found, which wasn’t too much of a surprise.
Nice weather allowed people to come out en masse, and it seemed whenever there was a group of four, three would be wearing a mask and one would stick out from the crowd without anything to cover their face. Masks were quick peeled off once fans found their seats.
Besides the Huskers game on The Railyard’s big screen, the state volleyball tournament was happening next door at the Pinnacle Bank Arena, and a lot of fans crowded between the two areas.
For Lundstrom, many months had passed since she had been to an event with this many people in such a small vicinity. With COVID-19 cases spiking in Lincoln, she said she would continue to watch the rest of the Huskers season from the safety of her home.
At The Railyard, as many as eight to 10 people crammed around each properly distanced picnic table, especially as the game went on and the weather warmed up. There was no sign of a cleaning staff to wipe off the tables before the game started or even after. As we walked around, fans came and went with bar drinks and pizza from Mellow Mushroom. Lines formed in multiple directions around the bars, which seemed like the only place where people wore masks.
During the game, Huskers fans didn’t have much to cheer about. The biggest reactions came from a couple of touchdowns or interceptions. Sitting around all of these Husker-loving fans felt like we traveled back in time to 2019, before we even knew what COVID-19 was.
A much better time that we may have once taken for granted.
Although we kept our masks on almost the entire time, besides when we were drinking or trying to converse over the loud music during halftime, somewhere in the back of our heads, we knew there was a chance of us contracting COVID-19.
This was the biggest crowd we’ve been around in a while with the majority of our classes being online. Without being able to go to sporting events or concerts since early March, this experience was the next-best-thing.
In this situation, safety is up to the individuals who come to The Railyard. Wearing a mask is a choice upon entering — it’s not enforced — something that could change in the coming weeks. Bringing your own hand sanitizer wouldn’t be a bad idea next time, considering we don’t know how often those tables were being wiped.
Overall, the experience didn’t feel all that different from years prior. Besides occasionally wearing masks, The Railyard was packed and people were having a lot of fun, even if the Huskers were losing. You wouldn’t be able to tell that from the smiling happy crowd watching their team play. The game day experience was back and accompanied by gorgeous fall weather, which made for a refreshing Saturday afternoon.
With that, it was fun attending The Railyard for this game, though this is not something we’d recommend for everyone to do. The elderly, people with underlying conditions and those who fear areas where there are a lot of people not wearing masks should stay far away from The Railyard on a game day, especially now that Lincoln’s COVID meter is in the red zone (no pun intended.) The safest place to watch Huskers games is from your couch.